WeNews: Rape in the Congo is increasingly being used as a weapon of war. In response, the U.N. is launching a new sexual violence training program for peacekeepers in order to prevent future attacks.
"Margot Wallstrom, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, returned last week from the scene of a recent mass rape attack in the Democratic Republic of Congo sounding resolved to change the way U.N. peacekeepers are trained.
Following the attacks, U.N. authorities have faulted peacekeepers for not investigating warning signs, such as village roadways that perpetrators had blocked off to entrap the victims and prevent peacekeepers from reaching them. To avoid repeating such errors, Wallstrom said in a recent interview that next year the U.N. will start providing something called scenario-based training on sexual violence for U.N. peacekeepers.
The practice, now being developed, is designed to prepare thousands of peacekeepers in police units for the increasing use of sexual violence as a tactic of war. The peacekeepers will participate in full-fledged role playing, responding to actors playing the part of victims of sexual or gender-based violence."
WeNews: Human rights groups in India have called for the end of the so-called "two-finger" rape test, citing that the test is physically invasive and uses a victim's previous sexual experience against her.
"In late September a lower court in New Delhi ruled that a rape test decried by Human Rights Watch earlier that month was obsolete and should be stopped. The court also directed the government to take "appropriate action," but Aruna Kashyap, a women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, says she's seen nothing yet.
The two-finger rape test involves a doctor inserting fingers in a rape victim's vagina to determine its "laxity" and decide if she is "habituated to sex." Defense lawyers often use this evidence to discredit the testimony of unmarried rape victims, who are dismissed as "loose women.""
NY Times: Although gays and lesbians have more freedom in India than they used to, lesbians in India still face more discrimination due to the social pressure faced by Indian women to get married and to bear children. Those who are brave enough to come out risk being disinherited, forced into marriage, or killed. As women they have considerably less control over their lives than their male counterparts.
"Gays and lesbians in India seem to have more freedom than just a decade ago. But, says Lesley Esteves, a writer and journalist in Delhi, Indian lesbians face very different challenges than gay men do. As women they have considerably less control over their lives than their male counterparts. “The problems lesbians face are also the problems women in general face in India,” Ms. Esteves said. “Economic disempowerment and economic inequality are at the root of it.”
These issues may be common to many Indian women, but Ms. Esteves said they were amplified for lesbians. A woman who reveals that she is a lesbian risks disinheritance. And in parts of the country where women must have permission from their families to work outside the home, the option of moving out to live one’s own life does not exist."
WeNews: Many Iraqi women who have fled to Syria to escape the U.S.-led war often face being sold into brothels by male relatives desperate for money.
"Um Ali is one of over a million refugees who have sought shelter in Syria since U.S. troops entered Iraq in 2003. She left with her husband and children during a wave of militia violence against Iraqis working--"collaborating"--with Americans in 2006.
Some girls and women among these refugees face being sex trafficked by people within their own families. No statistics or studies are available on this specific problem, but there are plenty of stories of men in a pinch treating female relatives as young as 13 as commodities for sex and marriage markets. Dodging such threats is particularly hard for women when they come from inside the family. Women who run away risk being branded prostitutes and subject to death at the hands of "dishonored" male kin. Marrying young and depending on men all their lives, they struggle to cope without a male provider and protector in Syria."
NY Times: Romania has been the center of trade in young girls for decades, and Iana Matei runs one of the only shelters in Romania for victims of sexual trafficking.
"The 15-year-old had been “trained” in prostitution in a nightclub in the southern Romanian city of Calarasi. Now, the sex traffickers were getting ready to sell her off to a Turkish brothel for $2,800.
Iana Matei, Romania's leading advocate for the victims of trafficking, had made contact with the girl and offered to wait outside the nightclub in her car, ready to take the teenager away if she could get out on the street for a cigarette break. But the girl had tried to escape before, and had been beaten severely. Ms. Matei was not sure she would have the courage to try again.
Then she appeared, bolting for the car and scrambling into the back seat. For more than 10 years, Ms. Matei, a psychologist by training, has been pulling young women out of the hands of traffickers, sometimes by staging “kidnappings,” sometimes just by offering them a place to stay, heal and rebuild their lives."
BBC: The first lady of the Democratic Republic of Congo led a march of thousands of women to protest the sexual violence and rape that have taken place over the past 4 months.
"The Democratic Republic of Congo's first lady has led thousands of women on a march against sexual violence.Olive Lembe Kabila headed the rally in the town of Bukavu in the east of the country, where Congolese and foreign armed groups have operated for years.
The demonstration led by Mrs Lembe Kabila saw thousands of women walk through the streets of Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province."
WeNews: The U.N.'s special representative on sexual violence in conflict is currently in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to identify perpetrators who raped hundreds of women two months ago. At the same time, a women's activist from the DRC visited the U.S. to encourage a strategy of fighting the rebel activity which causes the mass war rapes.
"Margot Wallstrom, the U.N.'s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, flew to the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday for a weeklong visit to a region where women suffered mass rape attacks two months ago. The same day, Justine Masika Bihamba, a leading Congolese anti-rape activist, toured New York and U.N. offices with a plan for preventing rapes in her war-torn country.
The two criss-crossed in more ways than who was going to and coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On the eve of Wallstrom's visit to meet with several hundred women who were raped between the July 30 and Aug. 3 attacks, she told a press gathering "we still have a window of opportunity to apprehend perpetrators." She spoke on Monday following a U.N. Human Rights Council hearing in Geneva.
But Bihamba, the visiting Congolese activist, doesn't think focusing on apprehending perpetrators will go far enough to prevent the problem.
'Wallstrom seems very committed, but the problem is that she deals more with the consequences of rape than with the causes,' said Bihamba, founder of the Synergy of Women for the Victims of Sexual Violence, a coalition of 34 women's organizations in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo."
Montreal Gazette: In the Canadian city of Ottawa, officials are considering adding "honour killing" to the Criminal Code. These violent crimes are often directed against girls and women and carried out by male relatives, often with the permission of older females and are thought to restore family honour and dignity.
"The federal government yesterday affirmed its zero-tolerance stance against 'honour killing,' declaring such 'barbaric cultural practices' as 'heinous abuses' with 'no place in Canadian society.' Rona Ambrose, minister responsible for the status of women, said the government is taking gender-based violence 'very seriously' and called on women's groups and members of the immigrant community to help tackle these "heinous abuses."
Her announcement was apparently prompted by this weekend's release of a report focusing on the growing problem of the abuse of girls and women in Canada's immigrant communities. The report, by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, outlines 14 recommendations for Ottawa, including mandatory sessions for male sponsors and sponsored women on gender-equality in Canada. Ambrose said the government is already working on some of the recommendations and is "looking at" others, including the launch of programs on television that could be used to reiterate the consequences of abuse. She also said the government is looking at adding "honour killing" as a separate Criminal Code charge.
The notion of honour killings, to "cleanse" a family name and restore honour, are most likely to take place in the South Asian community. A number of high-profile cases have catapulted the issue into the spotlight. In a report on the problem, Aruna Papp, a Toronto-based social worker who deals with domestic violence, argues that honour killings represent a new type violence against women in Canada. She said it is a phenomenon that demands the attention of researchers, community leaders, and politicians.
UN: In Haiti, there has been a rise in gender and sexual violence since January's earthquake made over a million people homeless. The United Nations has launched a new program to prevent rape and sexual assault in Haiti that includes training first responders and educating people in the camps.
"The United Nations has launched a new operation to combat rape and gender violence in Haiti, where some 1.3 million people were made homeless by January’s devastating earthquake, with the majority still living in camps.
Police and soldiers from the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) and Haitian national police (PNH), who are often the first responders, are being trained to tackle the problem and ensure medical services for victims, the top UN official in Haiti told the Security Council today.
'I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,' MINUSTAH head Edmond Mulet said, outlining steps taken since the drafting last month of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the impoverished nation, which he was presenting to the 15-member body.
'We have also launched a public information campaign on the prevention of and response to rape,' he added, noting that a 200-strong UN police unit continues to maintain a permanent presence in six high risk camps sheltering 135,000 people and carries out daily patrols in 70 other priority camps."
CNN: Rape has become the weapon of choice in the war-torn Congo, with more than 500 rapes committed by rebels since late July. Women are constantly attacked and do not feel safe while working, in the home or with their families. While the United Nations have been slow to respond, they are working to toughen efforts to prevent rapes in the region.
"U.N. officials on Tuesday put the number of rapes and other sexual attacks in eastern Congo since late July at more than 500, more than double the previous estimate.
In remarks prepared for delivery to the Security Council after returning from a fact-finding trip to the region, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Atul Khare cited 267 rapes or other sexual attacks in the town of Uvira -- on the eastern edge of the country -- and other nearby regions of North and South Kivu, in addition to the 242 rapes that had already been reported in and near the village of Luvungi.
U.N. officials have said they will toughen efforts to stop rapes in the region.
"The women of eastern DRC deserve better," said Margot Wallstrom, a U.N. special representative for sexual violence in conflict who sent a senior member of her staff with Khare on his fact-finding mission to the region. "For them, there is no safe place. They are raped when harvesting crops; when going to market; when fetching water and firewood; when carrying their babies; when in their homes at night, among their loved ones."
She added that the rape is becoming a weapon of choice in eastern DRC. "The sad reality is that incidents of rape have become so commonplace that they do not trigger our most urgent interventions," she said."